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I first started working with Biometrics back in the 1970’s in helping a graduate student develop a signature recognition system. Back then we were using mainframes, punch cards, a TTY33 and some very grainy EBCDIC artwork to help render the signatures. We never got very far, but we were able to make some interesting inroads. Boy have things changed.
We’ve talked on the show before about the NFL’s ties to the FBI and CIA and how you haven’t been able to go to a Super Bowl football game in years without having your photograph taken and analyzed against a database of known terrorists and criminals. This technology has reportedly been used to stop and arrest less than a handful of people over the course of the program.
The UK has become surveillance-central with tens of thousands of cameras capturing images of people’s faces, automobiles and tracking them as they move throughout the cities. This information is also being used to fight crime and detour n’er-do-wells.
Now the FBI has stepped in and is planning on rolling out a national-wide Facial Recognition Service which will allow any cop on the street with a smartphone to take your photo and run it through an FBI background check. Police vehicles will end up being equipped with cameras which go beyond their current function of running every license plate of every car within their shot to be fully integrated with the FBI and used to look up your background. Hopefully, they’ll catch a few bad guys.
But data has a way of sticking around.
Given a few years, this database of queries against the system will contain incredible information about the movement of people throughout the country and around the world. The government will be able to question you because they think your movements aren’t quite what they’d like them to be. They will be able to determine where you work, which restaurants you frequent, which car you drive and much more.
Database analytics has become a very large field for the government, and with the advent of a national facial recognition service, database vendors will be able to look forward to their best growth ever. Citizens, however, must be eternally vigilant to make sure this type of power does not become mis-used.
And the private sector? Google, Facebook and others are pretty excited about using facial recognition to tie all of your photographs together. Kinda nice to be able to find shots of your great aunt Lucy with your Mom and Dad, and the marketing angles are incredible. So are the risks.